Tennessee has received a vote of confidence in election year polling.
The Volunteers returned to the Top 25 for the first since the 2008 preseason poll on Sunday, but they want to go back four more years.
Tennessee, which is No. 23 in the AP writers’ poll, hadn’t been ranked since Phillip Fulmer was its coach. More significantly, it hasn’t beaten Florida since Ron Zook was coaching the Gators in 2004.
UT (2-0) will host No. 18 Florida (1-0, 2-0) on Saturday at 6 p.m. (ESPN) for the Vols’ SEC opener.
“It’s real good for us to be up in the Top 25,” said UT receiver Justin Hunter, who had eight catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns last week. “But we can’t think about that right now, because we’ve got more things to think about.”
Hunter undoubtedly will spend time this week thinking about suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the loss at Florida last year. Hunter had made 17 catches for 314 yards and two TDs in two-plus games when he landed in seemingly harmless fashion after a catch that cost him the season’s remainder.
“I was real angry,” Hunter said. “I just wanted to get back next year and just work hard and try to tear ’em up.”
The Gators won 20-17 at Texas A&M on Saturday, but weren’t much more impressive than they were in an ugly win against Bowling Green the previous week in the Swamp. Texas A&M has a new coach (Kevin Sumlin) and a new quarterback.
Florida’s still in transition, too. Second-year coach Will Muschamp has a new offensive coordinator in former Boise State coordinator Brent Pease and an inexperienced quarterback in 6-foot-4 sophomore Jeff Driskel, who’s averaging 138 passing yards per game. Driskel was an impressive 14 of 17 with no interceptions at A&M, but Florida only generated 307 yards of offense after tallying 365 against Bowling Green.
Tennessee apparently isn’t impressed with a Gators offense that has generally been ugly since Tim Tebow departed, and now no longer has speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey to bail it out.
“I think people want to wait and see how we do against Florida,” Tennessee defensive end Darrington Sentimore was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story. “But I’m here to tell them that we’re going to beat them.”
Who knows, perhaps a more publicized pick of the Vols is looming. ESPN’s College GameDay will be at Neyland Stadium to see the Volunteers try to snap the seven-game losing streak against Florida, and the matchup looks like a good opportunity for commentator Lee Corso to put on the Smokey mascot’s stuffed head and sing “Rocky Top” while making his weekly selection.
Rush to judgment: Tennessee coach Derek Dooley continues to be troubled by the Vols’ running game, which was little more than pedestrian against overmatched FCS member Georgia State in Saturday’s 52-13 victory.
Sophomore Marlin Lane, who was third string for the opener against North Carolina State, looks like the most natural, effective back, but he didn’t return after fumbling against Georgia State.
Dooley was most disturbed by a growing trend of not converting third-and-short situations and the general inconsistency of the ground game.
“It’s the same ole deal,” Dooley said. “Sometimes we look pretty good running the ball and sometimes we don’t look good at all. … Maybe we just need to spread it out and throw.”
Happy birthday: Tight end Mychal Rivera wasn’t pleased with his performance against North Carolina State, but bounced back on his 22nd birthday versus Georgia State.
The 6-foot-3, 244-pound redshirt senior had four catches for 70 yards in the first half, including a 19-yard TD that jump-started the sputtering Vols and gave them a 14-6 lead with 10:58 left in the first half.
“I only had one catch (against North Carolina State),” Rivera said. “I just felt like I could help the team more than that. I’m real confident in my abilities. I understand we have a lot of receivers, but I felt like I could really help more. And today I showed it.”
Rivera had 29 catches for 344 yards and a TD last year. Those numbers should climb if teams decide to devote a lot of attention to Hunter and fellow wideout Cordarrelle Patterson.